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Bombs kill 133 in Baghdad, gunmen storm ministry

Written by: Staff
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BAGHDAD, Nov 23 (Reuters) Up to six car bombs killed 133 people in a Shi'ite militia stronghold in Baghdad today, in one of most devastating such attacks since the US invasion.

A further 201 people were wounded, police said, and the Health Minister said the toll could rise. ''Many of the dead have been reduced to scattered body parts and are not counted yet,'' Ali al-Shemari told Reuters.

The blasts, which were followed by a mortar barrage aimed at a nearby Sunni enclave, came at the same time as gunmen mounted a bold daylight raid on the Shi'ite-run Health Ministry.

Six parked vehicles each packed with as much as half a tonne of explosives, as well as mortars landing in the area, devastated streets and a crowded market in the sprawling Sadr City slum in east Baghdad, Major General Jihad al-Jabori of the Interior Ministry told Iraqiya state television.

The violence seemed certain to inflame sectarian passions after a week of mounting tensions at the heart of the US-backed national unity government.

Washington is pressing Shi'ite and minority Sunni leaders to rein in militants to halt a slide towards all-out civil war.

The Sadr City blasts destroyed whole streets, leaving bloodied remains amid mangled vehicle wrecks. Fierce fires were left blazing after the attacks.

Five people were wounded at the Health Ministry, about 5 km from Sadr City, an Interior Ministry source said, when about 30 guerrillas fired mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and machineguns into the compound in one of the biggest public shows of force by militants in the city since the US invasion in 2003.

The arrival of US attack helicopters and ground troops eventually dispersed the assailants, ministry employees said Shortly afterwards, a dozen mortar rounds hit Aadhamiya, a Sunni enclave in mainly Shi'ite east Baghdad. The Interior Ministry said it was not aware of casualties in the attack.

The Health Ministry is run by followers of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army militia is accused by many Sunnis of being behind some of the worst death squad violence in the capital, in which hundreds of people a week are being kidnapped and tortured and their bodies dumped around the city.

The United Nations said yesterday violent deaths among civilians had hit a record of over 3,700 in October, although the health minister insisted it was much lower.

Only a handful of attacks in the sectarian violence that followed the US invasion have killed more than 100 people.

REUTERS SP ND2208

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